Women and ADHD writer’s block: a crash course

From time to time, I suffer from a terrible side effect of ADHD — not of ADHD medication, but of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder itself. It is highly destructive, perhaps especially for women, and it has a name: ADHD writer’s block.

Girl-with-pen-in-hand-writing

What is ADHD writer’s block, you ask? Well, first you have to understand the science behind ADHD. Now, full disclosure: What I am about to tell you *may* not actually be correct. You see, even though I’m confident that the cause I’m going to provide is right, so far, it’s politically correct just to say ADHD is thought to have that etiology. I know in my bones this explanation is accurate, and I’m pretty sure scientists haven’t thrown their weight behind it definitively only because they’re terrified they’ll turn out to be wrong. Still, this should not be taken as credible medical advice. Having said that, the primary source of ADHD is almost definitely, in a word, dopamine — or rather lack thereof. I think Jessica McCabe explains it best:

Dopamine is a neurotransmitter that’s part of the reward system in our brain. We do a thing; we get a hit of dopamine; we feel good. The problem is, in ADHD brains, there aren’t as many dopamine receptors as there are in the average brain. We kind of have to flood our brain with dopamine to feel the effects. You’ve heard of heat-seeking missiles? We are dopamine-seeking missiles.

The kicker is that estrogen modulates dopamine systems. According to a November 1988 article in the New York Times, “In two studies involving 200 women … the women performed better on tasks involving verbal skill or muscular coordination when estrogen levels were high than they did when the levels were low.” In other words, the higher your estrogen levels, the higher your dopamine levels; and the higher your dopamine levels, the stronger your verbal acuity. Thus, women are left experiencing heightened difficulty expressing themselves, both in conversation and in writing, during certain times in their monthly menstrual cycle and throughout their lives. 

During a bout of ADHD writer’s block, I, for one, feel tremendous amounts of frustration. I cannot overstate how aggravating it is to have half-formed brilliant ideas floating around in your head, but then be unable even to start typing when it comes time to write them down. Sometimes snatches of individual sentences will flit in and out of my mind, but when I set out to complete them and commit them to paper (well, to WordPress, anyway), they come out as gobbledygook, or worse, they don’t come out at all. This was a dangerous game for my brain to play with me back in grad school when I would need to write multiple-page papers on very imminent deadlines. And if you’re a professional writer, like me, it can actually put your career in jeopardy. Not to mention, it’s just plain annoying!

OK, great. But what are we supposed to do about it? Is there even anything to do about it? The answer, fortunately, is yes, there is:

Coffee.

As Devon Frye explains,

Caffeine is most commonly used to overcome sleepiness and increase productivity; in some people with ADHD, it’s thought to combat common symptoms like distractibility and inattention in the same way that stimulant medications do. […] Caffeine works by stimulating the autonomic nervous system — responsible for regulating heart rate and other involuntary bodily functions like digestion. In the brain, caffeine stimulates the release of certain neurotransmitters, like dopamine, and blocks the absorption of others, like adenosine — a chemical linked to sleep and relaxation.

So, there you have it. I usually am able to get my writing work done thanks to caffeine* — caffeine delivered in coffee form, that is. Personally, I get the most potent benefits from a regular coffee drink such as a Starbucks Grande Caramel Frappuccino (100 milligrams of caffeine) with an added shot of espresso (about 64 mg caffeine) thrown in. Of course, your mileage may vary. After all, I’m pretty sure I have the severest ADHD in literally (yes, literally, literally) the whole world; you may need less caffeine to achieve the same effects.

Coffee-with-pen-and-paper

In any case, after about 15 minutes of intermittent sipping, I’ll suddenly notice myself finishing incomplete thoughts and finding the language that will enable me to evoke them. Now, that’s my kind of ‘java-script!’


*For the record, coffee is not the only palliative for ADHD writer’s block. More suggestions on how to combat ADHD writer’s block can be found in Beth Harvey’s February 2016 post on her blog Smart Girls with ADHD.

7 tried-and-true tricks for traveling with ADHD

ADHD profoundly affects many aspects of our day-to-day lives. Travel is no different. But luckily, after years and years, I’ve learned how to minimize the fallout of ADHD-induced, travel-related trials and tribulations. And with the holiday travel season drawing ever closer, I thought I’d share seven of my foolproof methods.

Barefoot-girl-in-sundress-and-fedora-walking-down-path-with-suitcase

1. Invest in a large suitcase.

Pro tip: As long as a suitcase weighs less than 50 pounds, you may check it like any other bag. So instead of trying to be someone you’re not and attempting to squeeze two weeks’ worth of luggage into one medium-sized suitcase, go big or stay home! And if you really want to ‘go the extra mile’ with your ADHD-proof luggage, choose a suitcase that’s indestructible, like this stylish pink one

2. Pack everything you’ll need — AND everything you MIGHT need.

We ADHDers have a reputation for being underprepared — a reputation that isn’t ENTIRELY unwarranted. That said, if you’re anything like me, you tend to overcompensate by overpacking — and then later, trying to thwart everyone’s judgment that you’re a pack rat, ending up underpacking. All things considered, I think it’s better to be overprepared than underprepared. Don’t you?

3. Do a packing dry run.

 As early as possible before the start of your vacation, gather all of the items you’ve decided on after reading tip #2 and try packing them in the suitcase purchased after reading tip #1. Granted, some things, like your toothbrush or your medications, can’t be packed until day-of. However, you can TEMPORARILY pack them, and you should; you need to verify that your luggage hasn’t exceeded that 50-pound weight limit. To do that, you first need to weigh yourself. Then, pick up your full suitcase and step on the bathroom scale again. Finally, subtract your weight from the weight of you and your luggage. After that, you can adjust your packing list accordingly. 

4. Spring for TSA Pre✓

As the Transportation Security Administration website boasts, with a five-year, $85 membership, “you can fly through security and don’t need to remove your shoes, laptops, liquids, belts and light jackets.” I know, I know: Not everyone can afford this. But if you CAN pay for this option, then by all means, for the love of all that is good and holy, DO.

5. Set up a mobile boarding pass in addition to printing one out.

It would surprise me very much if I were the only person with ADHD ever to misplace a printable boarding pass while en route to a flight gate. Those damn little pieces of paper are just WAITING for us to lose them! Phones, on the other hand, are much harder to lose track of, if for no other reason than that you can track them using GPS. Avail yourself of these technological innovations — you’ll be glad you did.

6. Pack your medications in your carry-on — NEVER a checked bag.

Inevitably, luggage sometimes gets lost; and it can be days before its owner reunites with it. If you make the mistake of packing your ADHD medications in the said checked bag, you could face multiple days sans pharmacological symptom control. Granted, my ADHD is particularly severe; nevertheless, I think I speak for all other ADHDers when I say having to go neurologically ‘au naturale’ for even a single day can be pretty much the worst thing imaginable. 

7. Treat yourself and pay for some Wi-Fi time — BEFORE the day of your flight.

When I was preparing to fly to Washington, D.C. to visit my boyfriend last month, I surprised myself by getting everything together ahead of time — or so I thought. On the day before my flight, I received an email trying to entice me into paying $16 for a day’s worth of in-flight Wi-Fi. I smugly chaffed at forking over so much money for web access when I had already downloaded four e-books on my iPad that could be read without an internet connection. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was on the plane and in the air that I remembered something: It’s impossible for me to concentrate on reading while flying due to the cacophonous sounds coming from every direction on the airplane. Suddenly, I was stuck in the sky for three-plus hours sans any entertainment. And as it turned out, Delta Airlines doubles its prices to for a full day of Wi-Fi once the day of the flight has arrived. In the end, I just bit the bullet and shelling out $6 for an hour online.

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That’s really the salient point: Something WILL go wrong, no matter how many fail-safes you’ve devised. The key is to expect it. And above all, you have to have a sense of humor about problems while peregrinating. Otherwise, your ADHD may keep you from enjoying yourself.

…Bon voyage!